by Thomas D. Begley, Jr., CELA
The American Bar Association has appointed a Commission on the future legal services. Legal services are expensive and are beyond the reach of many poor and even middle class individuals. Technology is becoming a game-changer and non-legal entities are engaged in providing legal services. The ABA Commission is holding a series of grassroots meetings to gather information and propose new approaches for the delivery of legal services. The Commission will look at data regarding what percentage of a lawyer’s time is actually spent practicing law as opposed to administrative, marketing, fundraising, etc. The Commission wants to get the highest and best use of a lawyer’s time. It may be that non-lawyers will be trained to perform certain functions the way nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants do.
Non-Traditional Service Providers
There is already a considerable amount of legal process outsourcing (LPO). Law firms obtain legal support services from outside support service companies. Sometimes these companies are located overseas and the practice is referred to as outsourcing. Other companies, such as UnitedLex Professional Services, serve the needs of corporations and law firms who seek a skilled variable labor pool. The company hires and trains attorneys and other legal and technical professionals who have the ability to bring technology to bear on legal solutions. Axiom is a similar company that provides legal services support to financial services industries, technology, media and telecom industries, and life science industries. Axiom is not an LPO or a high-end temp firm or a law firm. It is a mixture of seasoned business professionals, process engineers, lawyers and technologists.
Georgetown Law Report
The 2015 Report on the State of the Legal Market, issued by Georgetown Law: Center for the Study of the Legal Profession, states that there have been significant changes in the practice of law since the beginning of the Great Recession. According to the report, most leaders of law firms of any significant size recognize that fundamental change is needed in the way their firms deliver and price legal services, but in practice there remains an astonishing lack of urgency in moving on these issues. Even the demand for litigation has fallen off. The report indicates there has been a proliferation of new non-traditional service providers that has been quite dramatic over the past few years. For example, Ernst and Young, operating through its legal arm EYLaw, hired over 250 lawyers in 2013, increasing its total lawyer headcount almost 30% to 1,100. The market is now awash with new, non-traditional competitors that over time are likely to change the dynamics of the legal services sector in significant ways.
Virginia Bar Association/Capital Funding
At a recent meeting of the Virginia State Bar Association Committee to Study the Future of Law Practice, a consultant named Gary LeClair, addressed the committee. He maintained that traditional law firms are begin replaced by such companies as Axiom, Riverview, Legal Zoom, etc. These firms have access to capital funding, which enables them to access the best technology and best legal and non-legal talent.
It would appear that change in the legal profession will be sweeping. Initially, the effect of companies like Axiom will be felt mostly by large firms. Companies like Legal Zoom already affect mostly smaller firms. If non-lawyers are permitted to own law firms, then providers such as Walmart would be able to control law firms. Overall, since the purpose of the changes being studied is to provide greater access to low and middle income individuals, it would seem that the largest effect will eventually be felt by smaller firms.